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ROBERT & THE TOYMAKER (aka THE TOYMAKER, ROBERT 3, 2017)
Directed and written by Andrew Jones.
Starring Lee Bane, Erick Hayden, Jo Weil, Nathan Head, Sophie Willis, Bodo Friesecke, Claire Carreno, Rik Grayson, Harriet Rees, Ali Rodney, Francesco Tribuzio, Jonathan Willis, Robert Graham, Courtney Bartle, and Adolf Hitler as himself!
When we last saw Robert the Doll at the end of THE CURSE OF ROBERT, he was returned to his maker, an elderly toymaker played by Lee Bane. This installment takes place during the height of WWII in Germany. A Nazi defector desperately roams the countryside. In his possession is a book containing ancient occult spells and rituals. The defector takes refuge in a farmer’s home and when discovered, the farmer’s daughter transports the book onto the doorstep of the Toymaker. At his wits end, with his shop in danger of closing due to the Nazi occupation, the Toymaker reads the book and brings life to a trio of dolls, a girl doll named Isabelle, a clown doll named Otto, and our favorite Willem Dafoe doll Robert. When the Nazis track down the Toymaker, it’s up to Robert and his dolly pals to rescue him and kick some Nazi ass.
The one thing you can count on; if you want to shift your villain towards redemption find a worse villain for them to take on. So of course, the go to ultimate villains are going to be Nazis for the cursed doll who has spent two movies so far killing innocent people simply because they happen to be near him. I don’t know why returning filmmaker Andrew Jones decided to give Robert somewhat of a redemption arc, but he goes for the ultimate turn by putting him against the worst people in history. ROBERT AND THE TOYMAKER takes a page from the PUPPETMASTER movie series playbook by going back in time and planting its roots in WWII. Turns out, Robert is the product of Nazi occultism. Which is fine. I’m not against it. The real life Robert the Doll is rumored to be made in Germany, so in some way, this horror series is still adhering to the lore around the real doll that is still taking up his residence in a museum in Florida.
The thing is, Andrew Jones shoots for the moon and attempts to do an INGLORIOUS BASTARDS-esque film rather than a killer doll story. So much of this film desperately wants to be a Tarantino film, it sometimes hurts to watch it. ROBERT AND THE TOYMAKER begins with a 30 plus minute long sequence that is Robert free. Instead, it recreates the opening scene in INGLORIOUS BASTARDS as Nazi officers enter a farmer’s home and interrogates him and his family in order to find the Nazi defector. This scene is not necessarily bad. The acting from the farmer and his wife (Jonathan Willis and Ali Rodney, respectively) as well as the chief Nazi inquisitor Colonel Ludolf Von Alvensleben (played by Erick Hayden) are actually quite good and though the scene is killer doll free, they hold their own and make the scene full of suspense.
But this isn’t a Tarantino-esque Nazi movie where the interrogator tells a quaint little story that vaguely relates to the situation and revels a bit of character along the way. This scene is extremely overlong, especially when the book is passed three times before it gets to the Toymaker and Robert. After a brief bit with Robert attacking one of the toy store clerks, it’s back to another overlong interrogation with another accompanying story. And then, after Robert gains two dolly friends, there’s yet another interrogation. These scenes are repetitious and redundant. The opening scene establishes these Nazis to be bad, but do we really need almost an hour of these scenes in a 90-minute movie to establish that Nazis are bad guys? I don’t think so.
These extended scenes with long dramatic pauses and diatribes galore feel like filmmaker Andrew Jones was padding the film in order to get it to be feature length. There simply isn’t enough story here for one movie. And while some of the scenes with Robert and his doll friends are effectively creepy, that doesn’t make up for the fact that they are hardly in the film at all. I like Andrew Jones’ nods to other genres and real life horrors that he peppers into this installment. The style and pattern of the dress worn by Isabelle is based on Talky Tina from an episode from ‘The Twilight Zone’ called ‘Living Doll’ and the clown doll Otto sports makeup that looks exactly like the clown makeup serial killer John Wayne Gacy wore. The clown doll is especially creepy with its dead eyes and blank demeanor covered in clown makeup.
The next installment of the ROBERT THE DOLL series takes Robert, Isabelle, Otto, and the Toymaker on a train filled with Nazis where they can once again slash and murderize the hell out of these krauts like mini Hugo Stiglitzes. Though I haven’t seen it yet, it really feels like Andrew Jones boke one script into two segments, this and the next installment THE REVENGE OF ROBERT THE DOLL, yet didn’t have enough story to fill the runtime of the first one. I’ll know if this is true next time when I check in on Robert in THE REVENGE OF ROBERT THE DOLL.